Twelve astronauts have walked the moon. The number of CEOs who have walked a golf course with Tiger Woods isn't much higher. For all his billions and passion for the game, Warren Buffett has played but one hole with Woods, a hole that Woods won playing each stroke from his knees. The day Woods and former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy met they wound up driving balls from McNealy's backyard into the Portola Valley of Northern California. Woods twice hit the roof of a neighbor's house he was aiming at from more than 300 yards, which sent them running inside to hide, giggling like children, McNealy says.
CEOs live in an exclusive world, but for all their resources and connections, the Tiger Woods Club is about as select as it gets. As Woods, 32, begins his 13th professional season this week at the Buick Invitational in San Diego, no new CEO members were able to wriggle an induction into the rare air of the Tiger Club at Wednesday's pro-am.
Woods, arguably one of the most recognized people on Earth, attracts throngs of spectators and autograph seekers. Playing with him is like playing with a rock star, says Yum Brands CEO David Novak. At the AT&T National near Washington, D.C., last summer, Woods won applause when he stepped out from the portable toilet. That's a kind of fervor you don't get stepping from the executive washroom.
As is his custom, Woods declined comment through his agent. The Professional Golf Association has no record of those who have played with him in pro-ams and fundraisers, but USA TODAY confirmed 12 CEOs and former CEOs who have had the honor, including Jerry Yang of Yahoo, Mayo Shattuck of Constellation Energy and Seth Waugh, CEO of Deutsche Bank America Three of the other nine, including Novak, played nine holes with Woods in the winning foursome of the pro-am round of the Skins Game in 2003.
What best demonstrates the exclusivity of the Tiger Club are the CEOs who are not in it:
Avid player Donald Trump, owner of courses, returned calls from Daily News, Los Angeles Times and USA TODAY reporters on his cellphone in 2006 and said he was playing with Woods in the pro-am of the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston. While it's true that Trump and Woods played in the same tournament, Woods played with Waugh and billionaire financier Henry Kravis, says Deutsche Bank spokesman Joshua Milne. Woods began early in the morning. Minutes after his group finished, Trump began his round with pro Brad Faxon. Trump's office did not return more recent calls asking for clarification.
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, perhaps the best-known CEO golfer with a 3 handicap in his prime, has never played with Woods. "Their paths just never crossed," says Welch's assistant Rosanne Badowski.
News reports say Bill Gates was a guest at Woods' 2004 wedding to Swedish model Elin Nordegren, but there is no record of a Gates-Woods golf outing. Neither Microsoft nor the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would confirm it one way or the other.
Not every CEO has an interest in the game. But Golf Digest publishes a list of the top CEO golfers, and among the most accomplished, with handicaps of 5 or less, are these who say they have never played with Woods: Intuit's Steve Bennett, Stanley Works' John Lundgren, MGIC Investment's Curt Culver, Crosstex Energy's Barry Davis and Nationwide's Jerry Jurgensen.